12 Paths in Life
In this week’s Torah portion – which closes
the book of Genesis – we read how Jacob, in his last days,
blesses his children, the twelve tribes. In these blessings
lie many secrets foretelling events to come. As the verse
tells us: And Jacob called to his sons, and said: “Gather
together, that I may tell you what will happen with you in
the end of days.”
As a blueprint for life these blessings have
much to teach us. Each of the twelve tribes reflects a unique
path in life. As the verse tells us at the conclusion of the
blessings: All these are the twelve tribes of Israel...
every one according to his blessing he blessed them (Vayechi
49:28). What is the meaning of the words “every one according
to his blessing?” “Blessing” in Hebrew also means to ‘draw
down’ (‘hamshocho’), from the root ‘mavrich.’
Every one of the tribes has his particular journey, his specific
energy which he must manifest in this world.
Indeed, our sages teach that the Re(e)d sea
split into twelve paths, providing a separate path for each
of the twelve tribes.
To understand these twelve paths we must study
the different ways that the tribes are described in the Torah.
We find three descriptions for the tribes. First, when they
are named by their mothers (Vayeitzei - Genesis 29-30; 35:18),
each child/tribe is given a name with a particular meaning
for a specific reason. Second, when Jacob blesses them (in
this week’s portion). And finally, when Moses blesses them
at the end of the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:6-25).
In addition the tribes are named and specified
many times in the Torah – when they enter Egypt, when they
leave Egypt, during their 40 year journey through the Sinai
wilderness they travel and camp as tribes, their Temple dedication
offerings are repeated twelve times (though they brought the
same offerings) to emphasize the twelve unique paths.
Here is one of many applications of these twelve
paths, based primarily on this week’s blessings.
Reuven – The First
Shimeon – The Aggressor
Levi – The Cleric
Judah – The Leader
Dan – The Judge
Naftali – The Free Spirit
Gad – The Warrior
Asher – The Prosperous One
Issachar – The Scholar
Zevulun – The Businessperson
Joseph – The Sufferer
Menashe – Reconnection
Efraim – Transformation
Benjamin – The Ravenous Consumer
Reuven – the first-born (‘bechor’)
– represents the powerful energy of everything that comes
first. The first fruit, the first moments of the day, the
beginning of every creation – has enormous amount of energy.
“Unstable like water,’ this power can go either way: If harnessed
properly, the ‘bechor’/Reuven energy can change worlds;
if abused it can destroy. Like water, it can be the source
of life, but if left unchanneled it erodes its environment
and can flood its surroundings.
Shimeon is aggressive gevurah
– the antithesis of Reuven’s chesed/water. The fierce
anger and cruel wrath that can result from unbridled gevurah
must be eliminated lest it turns into weapons of violence
that consume the person and all those he comes in contact
with. [The lesson of this today is self understood].
Levi is the tribe chosen to serve in
the Temple. “Levi” also means ‘attached’ or ‘joined’. Levi
is the personality of dedicating your life to serving a higher
calling. Of freeing yourself from your bounds to material
survival and attaching yourself to Divine service (see Rambam,
end of Hilchot Shemittah v’Yovel).
Judah means acknowledgement (‘hodaah,’
as in ‘modeh ani’). Judah’s name also includes the
four letters of the Divine name Havaya. Judah is the leader;
his descendants would be the kings of Israel, beginning with
King David and concluding with Moshiach. Judah is the path
of selflessness (‘bittul’) – the most vital ingredient
in true leadership.
Dan is the path of law and order (‘dan’
means to judge). Objective justice is the heart of any civilization.
Naftali is the free spirit personality.
Like a ‘deer running free’ – breaking out of the status quo
– independence is a necessary component in growth. Yet, this
free spiritedness must always take care to ‘deliver words
Gad is the warrior archetype. Expanding
on the justice of Dan, Gad is ready to fight for his
beliefs. The warrior is necessary to both defend our cherished
values and to protect our freedoms.
Asher is both prosperity and pleasure.
Asher is the dimension of blessing beyond the norm – to be
given more than what is necessary for survival. Asher is the
personality of not just getting what you need, but also enjoying
Issachar is the scholar. Scholarship
provides wisdom, clarity and direction. It is the foundation
of any system. Issachar is the dedication to immerse in study
Zevulun is the merchant, the businessperson
personality. His role is to enter the marketplace and redeem
the Divine sparks within the material world (the ‘secret treasure
hidden in the sand’ – Deuteronomy 33:19). Zevulun complements
Issachar; they forge a partnership: Zevulun supports the scholar,
he funds houses of scholarship, which earns him a right to
partake in the reward of Issachar’s studies.
Joseph is the element of suffering in
life. Yet, he not only survives; he thrives. He achieves greatness
through his challenges. He overcomes all adversary and becomes
a great leader, saving his entire generation. Despite his
corrupt environment, he maintains his spiritual integrity.
The powerful light that emerges from darkness in Joseph divides
into two dimensions – his two sons: Menashe and Efraim:
Menashe represents the ability to not
succumb to the powers of the ‘mitzraim-constraints’
that want to make you forget your spiritual roots. To remain
connected regardless of the challenges.
Efraim takes it even further. It is not
enough to just survive in an alien environment, but to thrive
– to ‘be fruitful in the land of my affliction.’ Efraim is
the power to transform the difficulties into Divine power.
Benjamin is hungry, hungry for the Divine
sparks in all of existence. So, like a ‘ravenous wolf’ Benjamin
recognizes that his mission is to passionately seek out the
Divine energy embedded in matter, devour it, consume and elevate
Twelve tribes. Twelve paths. All necessary to
reach our destination.
Which personality are you? What part do you
need to develop?
May we discover our path and live up to it.
And may that help us reach the time -- at the end of
days - when we will gain clarity as to who
belongs to what tribe (see Rambam Hilchot Melochim 12:3).
Perhaps the significance of this revelation is the crystallization that
will come in the time when the 'world will be filled
with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.'